The evening after the tragic mass killings in Christchurch, New Zealand, the public in Vancouver was invited to city’s oldest mosque, the al-Jamia Masjid on West 8th Avenue. After prayers, we heard from leading members of the mosque (who include several progressive activists), a range of politicians, and the deputy police chief. All condemned the anti-Muslim racist ideology which motivated the killer, and called for unity and inclusiveness to push back hatred and violence.
(Oddly, one of the politicians was a Conservative candidate in the upcoming federal election; apparently he hasn’t received the memo that his leader Andrew Scheer is campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform.)
Some of the most powerful community speakers were local New Zealanders living in Vancouver, and other individuals expressing their grief and solidarity. For a few, this was their first time inside a mosque. One woman spoke of her shock to hear that nobody at the event was surprised by the massacre in Christchurch.
Sadly, her observation rang true. Those of us who devote much of our lives to resisting fascism, racism, misogyny and white supremacy know that violent attacks will not soon disappear. Despite passionate cries that “this must never happen again,” the 2015 slaughter of nine black congregants at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina was followed by the 2017 murder of six Muslim men at the Islamic Centre in Quebec City, and the murder of eleven Jewish people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Within the same sphere of violence against “others”, targetted killings of women can be traced from the 1989 École Polytechnique murder of 14 female engineering students in Montreal, to the 2018 Toronto van attack which killed ten people (mostly women). The massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida falls into the same general category.
The point of listing these notorious attacks is not to express despair or fatalism. The lesson must be to unite working people against all the related ideologies of bigotry and hatred which are spread to divide us.
We also need to consider why police and security forces in North America appear almost wilfully blind to the fact that terrorism is mostly linked to right-wing causes or bigotry.
I personally witnessed one such incident. In March 2017, during the annual International Day for the Elimination of Racism event in Vancouver, thugs from the white supremacist Soldiers of Odin threw smoke bombs and threatened to assault people while our local member of parliament – Jenny Kwan, an immigrant of Chinese ethnic origin – was speaking. Participants in the rally hurried to form a human barrier to protect Kwan, while Vancouver Police Department officers looked on passively. Eventually the police removed one thug from the scene, dropping him off a few blocks away.
This case of is just one among thousands showing a pattern across Canada and the US. During the mid to late 1990s, after white militia supporter Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah building in Oklahoma and killed 168 people, law enforcement officials paid some attention to the threat posed by such organizations.
After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, there was a dramatic swing back towards “business as usual”: intense surveillance and harassment of racialized communities, despite the growing mountain of evidence that terrorism in the US (and Canada) is almost entirely a product of white supremacist and other right-wing movements.
A recent New York Times article analyses this trend in painful detail. As the author says, the spike in white supremacist death threats against Barack Obama during and after his election as president briefly drew the attention of security agencies. But fear of the heavy political costs involved in naming “right-wing terrorism” soon led to official withdrawal of such terminology. The resources devoted to tracking and neutralizing such forces were drastically scaled down.
Under Donald Trump, of course, right-wing extremists have been emboldened, taking to the streets and social media forums, spreading vile abuse in very possible way.
This brings us back to the question: how do we know that events such as the Christchurch massacre will happen again? It’s simple. Judging by the “comments” on social media sites, the white supremacists and bigots who form the pool of potential mass killers say they will never stop. Most seek to eliminate any Muslim presence in North America. Many want to wipe out other racialized groups, or to reduce women to total subservience under a male patriarchy, or to kill trans people. Some openly urge assassination of political leaders, or attacks against environmentalists and political radicals. (It’s worth noting that the building where People’s Voice publishes has received at least five significant threats of fascist violence since 1997.)
But it’s rare for politicians, police or the courts to pay much attention to these open declarations of deadly intent. The notorious Toronto-based “Your Ward News” is a revealing example. After years of urging violence against women, Jews, Muslims, and Marxists, the editor and publisher of this vile publication each face a maximum six months in custody and/or $5,000 in fines, after being found guilty of wilfully inciting hatred against two identifiable groups: Jews and women. The sentencing hearing is on April 26; we’ll be watching with keen interest.
Of course, there are courageous grassroots groups and individuals who track the violent tirades of such far-right menaces, and they deserve our active support. (See stopracism.ca, for example.)
But those who have the resources to comprehensively monitor the escalating right-wing threats are instead busy watching Black Lives Matter, Antifa activists or Indigenous land defenders for non-existent dangers from these and other critics of the system. Since the police and security services are among the armed agencies of the capitalist state, this is absolutely not surprising.
So, what will it take to block the real danger of right-wing terrorist violence? Unless millions of people unite in action (especially the labour movement, which has a high proportion of women and members of racialized communities), more attacks seem likely.
We don’t want to be the ones saying, “We told you so.” But we will keep ringing the alarm bells.